PLANT CITY, Fla. — To keep their fruit competitive, make sure it survives transit and always has a sweet taste, Florida growers continually invest in new and better-performing varieties.
This season, one of the newer varieties, radiance, is bringing a bounty of fruit at the deal’s start.
“We have significantly increased our radiances,” said Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC.
“Last year, it was a little elongated. But the shape and color look real nice. The fruit size is good, and it’s a nice berry.”
Unlike treasures, one of the deal’s leading varieties, the radiances seem to advance well in cool growing conditions, Pollard said. He said the radiance’s smaller plants also make for easier harvesting and produce highly visible fruit.
While festivals, the leading Florida variety, represent 65% of Astin’s production, the grower-shipper doubled its radiance production. The new variety increased to 25% of its plantings with treasures at 15%, Pollard said.
Astin is also experimenting with winter star, a new variety. Astin planted 1.5 acres of the variety.
Radiances account for the majority of berries grown by Winter Haven-based SunnyRidge Farm-Dole.
Keith Mixon, president, said the variety represents 60% of its plantings with festivals at 40%.
He said SunnyRidge Farm-Dole stopped growing treasures because the variety ran its course and experienced of a lot of disease pressure.
SunnyRidge Farm-Dole tests new varieties through its research and development plots.
“We have to have such tests because things move and change so fast that what’s good today may not be good five years from now,” Mixon said.
“If we’re not involved aggressively in R&D, demand might decrease. We need to do our part and remain committed to R&D. We have alliances and agreements around the world with breeders.”
Gulf Coast Produce Inc., Dover, increased its radiance plantings while decreasing its treasure plantings.
At 50% of its plantings, radiance is the grower-shipper’s largest-planted variety, said Steve Machell, sales manager.
“We’ve shipped it (radiance) over the last couple of years,” Machell said.
“This year looks to be the best we’ve seen so far. The customer comments are excellent.”
Last year, radiance accounted for 20% of Gulf Coast’s acreage. Still big in plantings, festivals represent 45% of acreage with treasures at 5%.